Pikes Peak doughnuts are confusingly good (or bad)

Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak, doughnuts, Rocky Mountain Food Report

Are the doughnuts on Pikes Peak tremendous or terrible?

Yesterday brought not only my first trip to the top of the Peak — this after living in Colorado Springs my entire life — but my first taste of its “world famous donuts,” as a large sign on the Summit House calls them. (Pro tip: Great view of the changing aspens from the Cog.)

And of course they are pretty famous. I know them as a bedrock of local Peak lore, but a Google search brings back 80,000 results, with another 20,000 hitting on “recipe.”

Doughnuts of one form or another have been sold on the mountain for around 125 years. “The Army abandoned its weather station in 1888,” Dave Philipps writes in 2013. “It was taken over by the mayor of Manitou Springs, who started selling doughnuts and coffee to tourists.”

Reporting from the Peak  in 2010, KRCC and The Big Something discovered some 3,500 people will hit the Summit House on a busy day, and they’re all looking for fried satisfaction.

“It’s only going to work up here,” says then-kitchen-manager Rebecca Beeston of the recipe. “Even if you take it down a couple thousand feet, the recipe will not work.

“They’re high-altitude [cake] doughnuts — they can only be made above 14,000 feet. … We just make high-altitude adjustments to the recipe. And of course we do have our secret ingredient, which we can’t reveal, sorry.”

Maybe the secret ingredient is oil, because my first experience with the 99 cent beauties, piled high in a cramped cafeteria staffed by the overworked, was the slick sheen of the fryer, coating my fingers and soaking the wrapper.

Then I took a bite.

The taste wasn’t exactly dessert and it wasn’t exactly dinner. It was compelling and confusing. I didn’t know if I wanted to combine it with coffee or saag paneer. It’s a crumbly, crunchy experience, but there’s a soft, steamy interior just waiting to make you ask, “Is that spice cake I taste?” I didn’t immediately want another bite, but then watched with some chagrin as my wife finished it off.

Are they good or bad? Thin and overdone, or multi-faceted and artisanal? Doughnut or dipping bread? You tell me. I’m just glad now I know … something.

[Image: Bryce Crawford]

3 thoughts on “Pikes Peak doughnuts are confusingly good (or bad)

  1. I had no idea donuts on Pikes Peak was a thing! Leavened pastries at high altitude is a challenge, but mostly, I believe, because of the lower boiling point of water. Frying should mostly solve that problem, I’d think. Based on the flavor profile, I’d say a donuts-as-naan experiment is definitely in order. They also sound like they’d make a pretty killer base for a bread pudding.

    1. BTW, the crust on the donut in the photo suggests there’s some rice flour in the batter (ala tempura), but I don’t know if the texture supports that theory. The greasiness seems likely to be caused by cold fryer oil.

  2. Yeah, they definitely seemed like they would pair well with something savory and sloppy, or hold up well to soaking.

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